About 10 years ago, in anticipation of getting engaged, I embarked on what eventually amounted to nearly two years of research about diamonds. I’m an information junkie and the consummate deal-finder, so I knew that to avoid retail prices, I had to know my stuff.
And — I should point out — I wasn’t going to leave this gargantuan decision up to my not-yet-fiancée! Oh, noes. I wanted to be part of the process.
Because I am a control freak.
After filling my brain with knowledge, and finding the most incredible diamond broker a girl could wish for, it was only natural that I would share the fruits of my research labour with anyone who brought up the subject of jewelry, gems, diamonds, engagement, marriage or the like.
But one gets tired of talking at times. So I decided to write it all down.
Over the years, this document has been shared hundreds of times among friends, family and colleagues. I feel now the time is right to share it with you. Because even if you’re already married, there are several scenarios in which you may find yourself in need of diamonds. Such as:
- A “push present” — while I know there are some of you out there who say “my baby is my gift,” there are many of you who also say “damnit, I just laboured for 126 hours and pushed out a 37-pound baby and I deserve me some bling!”
- An anniversary gift — a nice eternity band? Tennis bracelet? Diamond stud earrings? You get the idea…
- A do-over on your engagement ring or wedding band — look, it happens. Either you need to go from gold to platinum or you just decide that what you have isn’t working for you any more for whatever reason; it’s OK. There’s no shame in trading in or trading up
- A gift for someone else — maybe your mom is coveting a set of stackable rings and you happen to win a few thousand bucks at the craps tables. Hey, it could happen!
Whatever the occasion, before you shop for diamonds, you should know what you’re looking for, how much you want to spend and how to get the cheapest price.
So let’s dive in.
This post will give you a basic tutorial in diamonds and hopefully save you a lot of time and money along the way. Consider this the layperson’s guide to diamonds.
There are some really important considerations you need to take into account when looking for a diamond, also known as the “four Cs”:
Diamonds are given a colour category by their “whiteness.” The more perfect (and thus, rare) the diamond, the whiter it will be. As the grade gets lower, there are more impurities in the diamond that can cause a yellowish to brownish tinge to the diamond. The most perfect colour you can get is a “D” colour and it goes down the alphabet from there:
To give you a better understanding, high-end jewelry stores (think little blue box) only sell diamonds in the D to I range. Retail stores in the mall generally sell colours from I on down. Aside from that pretty blue box with a ribbon so perfectly tied you know there must be a day-long course to learn how to do it, you’re paying for whiter, rarer diamonds which is one big reason why they’re so much more expensive.
Unless you’re swimming in cash, there’s really no reason to buy a D or E (maybe even an F) colour — for most people, the naked eye cannot see the difference between an D and a G; if you have a really careful eye, however, you might see a slight difference between F and G, but I doubt 90 per cent of the population would. So, unless you want perfection that only a microscope can determine, start your search with F colour at a minimum or G if you’re in that 90 per cent.
Some people are very finicky about having “the best,” and if you have the money to buy the best, go for it. For those of us who live with the reality of a ring budget, choosing a G is really good bang for the buck. While H diamonds are still quite white, those with a discerning eye can definitely tell the difference without the help of a microscope between an F and an H. That said, your budget will rule your decision. Moving up a colour means moving up your budget. Period.
Just as important as the colour of your diamond is the clarity. In fact, if you’re playing below the F colour range, I believe clarity is your most important consideration. Clarity refers to the “clearness” of your diamond. When you look at some diamonds (with the naked eye), you can see chips, black marks (carbon) or clouds. You want to avoid this as much as your budget will allow because it really impairs the overall beauty of your diamond and the way it catches and reflects light — which is what gives diamonds their beautiful sparkle.
Like colour, there is also a grading scale for clarity:
And, just like colour, while there’s really no reason to buy an F or a VVS1, if you have an unlimited budget, then go for it. The differences between VS2 and SI1 diamonds are really indiscernible to the naked eye, so it’s down to dollars and personal preference.
If you’re going with an H colour, then spring for at least VS1 clarity to offset it. But if you’re going with an F or G, an SI1 is a great option because you get all the naked-eye clarity of its technically clearer VS sisters without the huge cost.
Think about it: when’s the last time you went to a party and someone had a diamond microscope (called a “loupe,” incidentally)?
However economical you may need to be, I’d avoid anything in the I1-3 range; in my opinion, it’s much better to buy a smaller, clearer diamond than a bigger one that doesn’t have “fire.” Light does not reflect well in I-clarity range diamonds and over time, you’ll probably be very disappointed.
While it may seem like the least important element of diamond-buying, the “cut” is still integral to the quality (and, therefore, cost) and sparkle of your diamond. Diamonds are crafted by hand by skilled diamond cutters — however, some are more skilled than others and some raw/rough diamonds are cut to maintain size but therefore sometimes sacrifice a bit of quality. All of these factor into how well a diamond’s cut is graded:
- Excellent – typically, this grading is only given to round brilliant diamonds because it’s said that it’s the only shape that can have a perfect cut. Not sure how true this is because I never personally considered a round brilliant shape (but this is what I’ve read). This cut will give off the most fire and brilliance (sparkling even when it’s not directly hit with light)
- Very good – The best grading you can get (apparently) for all other shapes. This cut will give off great fire and brilliance
- Good – Still considered a very good cut that has lots of sparkle
- Medium – May not seem to have as much life as another diamond, especially if the clarity is poor
- Fair – When the light hits this cut, it may just fall flat instead of bouncing off as it should (which gives off that lovely sparkle)
- Poor – Very little light can get through this cut resulting in almost no sparkle
As with all of the other factors, the higher the grading, the higher the price. Good or very good is where you want to buy.
Definitely one of the biggest factors in pricing, carat weight is determined by the size of the diamond and weighed on a special scale. This can be deceiving depending on the diamond because some diamonds are cut to appear bigger on the surface but suffer in the depth (this accounts for a lower cut grade), so it’s really about the entire diamond and not just the way it looks from the top.
The sky’s the limit when it comes to carat weight (size). You can buy a diamond as tiny as 0.01 carats (in my wedding band, I have some little guys circling the band that are 0.03 carats each) and as big as, well, about as big as you can imagine. Back in the day, J-Lo’s ring from Ben Affleck was about six carats and it was big news. But that’s nothing compared to Kim Kardashian’s 15-carat rock that Kanye gave her!
I once tried on a four-carat beauty at Cartier that cost more than my house. I remember trying an estate ring with four carats’ worth of diamonds all the way around this big, thick band (it was stunning) – but because it was made up of hundreds of very small diamonds, it was only about $5,000. Size matters.
The bigger the diamond, the more it costs — but it’s on an exponentially sliding scale. For example, while three half-carat diamonds equal a total carat weight (also referred to as TCW) of 1.5 carats, they will be substantially cheaper than buying a 1.5-carat solitaire diamond (with all things considered equal in terms of your other three Cs). So, purchasing a solitaire and a triple-stone ring of the same TCW will certainly not cost the same.
When it comes to the size of your diamond(s), this is a very personal decision and one where I cannot and will not offer advice. Some people want a huge rock; but not everyone likes a big diamond and, to be honest, some women’s hands can only handle so much diamond before it looks way too big and out of place. You need to first know your budget range and then using the colour, clarity and cut that you want (pick a range so you can see several options), you will know pretty quickly what size diamond fits within your budget once those other elements are factored in. Again, it’s always better to sacrifice size for quality. Bigger is not better! A smaller but higher-quality diamond normally looks bigger than a bigger, lower-quality diamond — strange, but true.
Not as important as your diamond, which is the part of your ring that will be “on display,” these are also key parts of choosing your ring:
Again, this is all about your personal preference. Do you like the classic look of a round brilliant or the tradition of the emerald cut? There are so many different shapes and some jewelry stores have even started crafting their own (Birk’s has the Amorique, which is essentially a cushion cut; Tiffany has the Lucida, which is a Radiant).
Some shapes are rarer than others (Asscher can be harder to find whereas you can find Princess everywhere) and some are more popular than others (Pear and Marquise are not as “in fashion” right now but have enjoyed immense popularity in the past), and depending on where you buy your diamond, this can also affect the price. Try on a whole variety of rings to see what you like. When we first started ring shopping, I was certain I wanted a tri-stone emerald cut ring; but when I tried it on, it did nothing for me.
This has as much to do with preference as it does with price. You have three standard options: yellow gold, white gold and platinum. White gold is essentially yellow gold mixed with nickel and some other white metals and plated in rhodium. Yellow gold comes in 10, 12, 14, 18, 22 and 24 karat (not to be confused with carat) gold; 24 karat gold is pure (24 parts gold out of 24). Pure gold is very, very soft so you would never want a 22 or 24 karat gold band because it would dent and bend easily with normal wear. White gold comes in 14 and 18 karat (it may come in more, but I’ve never heard of it); 14 is a bit harder than 18, but 18 tends to be whiter.
Platinum is the hardest metal on earth and it’s the “whitest” metal you can get. It’s also the most expensive.
When I started ring shopping, my opinion was to spend your money on the diamond and get gold (whichever your preference). However, if you choose white gold because of its relative whiteness, I should point out that with normal wear and tear, even 18 karat white gold will start to show a slight yellowish tinge over time. Now, most jewelers offer to re-dip in rhodium (part of the platinum family) for free or a very small price ($35-50), so it’s up to you if (a) the slight colour change would be noticeable or bother you, or (b) you will be annoyed at giving up your rings for a week once a year — or more — to have them re-dipped.
When you’re pricing out gold versus platinum, it can be up to three times more expensive for platinum. And here’s the other kicker — if you get a platinum engagement ring you also have to consider the cost of getting the matching platinum band for your wedding! Don’t forget that there’s another ring in your future. You can’t put white gold and platinum together as a set because you’ll most definitely see the colour difference. Some jewelers will even tell you that the chemical imbalance can cause a reaction in the metals, though I’m not sure how true that is.
Some people are very antsy about buying “blood diamonds” thanks to the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio. Some people only want to buy Canadian diamonds. Some people don’t care either way. Diamonds are mined in many countries; some are more ethical than others. While this may end up affecting price (i.e. Canadian diamonds tend to be pricier), it’s not a major factor.
When dealing with some retail stores, wholesalers or brokers, they may or may not have “certified” diamonds; that is, an independent body (like AGI or GemScan) tests and measures the 4Cs and provides a third-party report that comes with your ring. Think of it as built-in insurance before you buy your ring and have it appraised. That said, you may fall in love with a rock that simply doesn’t have certification. This does not mean that it’s not the cut, size, colour and clarity that the seller is telling you it is — it just hasn’t been pre-verified by a third party. My diamond happened to be certified but I wasn’t tied to having one that only came with certification.
Finally, once you know what you’re looking for, and you’re ready to sit down and seriously consider buying your diamond and ring (yes, outside of a retail store, you actually buy them separately), you’ll need to remember a few things before forking over thousands of your hard-earned dollars:
PURCHASING & PRICE
Retail stores: You’re going to spend the most here, thus getting you a smaller and/or lesser-quality diamond for your money. For example, many of the fancy-store rings are appraised at a lower price than the purchase price. This is crazy. You don’t want to pay the full appraisal price – ever! – for your ring. If you’re the kind of person who wants a receipt or wants to say that your ring is from said fancy store, by all means…go nuts. Even the mall stores, while less expensive than the big names, are still far more expensive than a wholesaler or broker.
Wholesalers & brokers: Some retail stores are set up to be called “wholesalers” but if they have a storefront, make no mistake, it is still retail! It might be cheaper (for a whole variety of reasons, from packaging to staffing to quality), but it’s certainly not wholesale. Real wholesalers are brokers to retailers, which means they import/buy the diamonds from different countries/sources and sell them at a mark-up to the retailers, who in turn sell the diamonds at an even higher mark-up to customers. As you can see, if you cut out the retailer, you cut out an entire level of mark-ups. But brokers are hard to find. Even if you know where your local diamond district is (if you have one), getting in is a challenge without a contact. They are under strict lock and key and always want to know how you found them. However, once you’re in, you are in and you’ve hit the jackpot (or the goldmine, but that would be a cheesy thing to say…).
Our diamond broker’s contact info (shhh…this is just between you and me, OK?): Remy Sales. Contact my man Shuly at email@example.com. It doesn’t matter if you’re not in Toronto. It doesn’t even matter if you’re not in Canada. These guys do business all over the world.
Have an idea of what you want to look at before you get in touch, then tell him what you want to see what’s in your price range, and set up an in-person meeting if you’re within driving distance. There’s no fancy office or fancy packaging. Their work is absolutely amazing. And so are their prices.
Ask questions, look under the microscope. Take your time. You can always come back a second or third time — this is a huge decision.
 Serious buyers usually prefer this method since some diamond imperfections can be hidden under claws; true diamond connoisseurs also say that you can’t ever have a clarity of F if you don’t buy the diamond separately.